Almost 50% of our food is wasted in the UK, food poverty is becoming increasingly prevalent and the disparity between the health of the poor and the rich is getting wider. Food is a political issue. Evidence is increasingly leading to suggest that an economy that treats food as a commodification, rather than a human right means that a healthy diet is a luxury that many cannot afford. Octupus Alchemy is a small project seeking to reconnect these issues to allow us to radically rethink our food economy.
Octupus Alchemy started in Darren Olterton’s living room when he taught five strangers about the benefits of fermented food. It has now transformed into a small social venture in which he turns surplus food into what he likes to call ‘politics in a jar’. He’s currently running a crowdfunder so he can secure more equipment to continue running workshops at Silo each month, on how to transform surplus food provided by The Real Junk Food Project into fermented goods that come with a multitude of health benefits. Darren describes fermented products as ‘profoundly nourishing, but sadly lost to our contemporary food culture’.
I went along to the crowdfunding launch, held at Silo, the UK’s first zero waste restaurant, for a three hour sample workshop. It begun with a fascinating presentation about the health benefits of probiotic fermented goods. It was thoroughly engaging as he spoke through the importance of reconnecting to our gut, despite an over usage of academic jargon. He demonstrated several fermentation techniques and passed around samples of the delicious pickled goods, which included Sauerkraut; a german fermented cabbage, Kimmchi; a spicy and mildly funky smelling Korean fermented concoction and a fermented salsa.
We all had a go at making our own sauerkraut, slicing cabbage with massive wooden mandolins. Before being encouraged to radically connect with the food as we scrunched at the shredded cabbage and although I didn’t quite meet my ferment zen, it did feel pretty therapeutic to bash cabbage around a bowl.
It may seem all a little new age-y for those of us that don’t have a fascination with food politics or find an intense pleasure in squeezing water out of a salted savoy; my housemate did produce an eye roll when I came home an excitedly started ranting about how my small jar of sauerkraut was a ‘vessel of dissent’. However many of us could gain from three hours of connecting with the social, spiritual, political, physical and emotional implications of how we treat our guts.
The food revolution is beginning and it’s grassroots projects like these that encourage us to reconnect with our environment that are essential to us growing as a community that can tackle the issues around food. It’s a project with great potential to flourish, but only if the community gives back. Support Octopus Alchemy and find out more here.
By Imogen Woods